Thursday, December 29, 2011

another chapter in city politics draws to a close

photo courtesy of Dodge Baena

Winter is oddly depressing and comforting. It is the season of emotional senescence, whereby we retreat inside and reflect on the year that passed. At least it is that way for me; I don't ski or snowboard. Snow irritates my ankles.

The winter break has provided me all the free time university siphons away. My casual rejection of being outside in the winter has loosened, since I have discovered pleasurable free outdoor activities, like the Nicholas Lambden rink in front of City Hall.

This rink (hopefully), represents a closing chapter in the City of Guelph, as is naturally expected in the season of Winter. The implementation and construction of the new rink, City Hall building, and Market Square space has been a point of contention between the public, downtown merchants, and city hall, for several years. Anyone who frequents downtown can attest, Carden St. has been in a perpetual state of construction every summer for the past several years. The construction was blamed for driving away customers and putting merchants on the verge of bankruptcy. The situation between merchants and the city was poorly handled; at one point the city threatened to sue business owners over a defamatory comparison made between city councillors and the three stooges.  . 

The negative impacts of Carden's (re)construction have been used as fodder by the anti-Farbridge groups to support the claim that the City of Guelph is anti- business, as was mentioned in a leaked report earlier this year. To truly determine if this is correct, I feel more time is needed to see the change in business on Carden St.

I understand all the arguments against the reconstruction of Carden, but after visiting I find it harder to convince myself it was a bad idea. It's a beautiful space, and attracts a diverse selection of Guelphites. It is endearing to see new Canadians strapping on skates and embracing a Canadian pastime. It is endearing to see wobbly-footed children coached by their grandparents. It is endearing to see young couples hold hands and weave their way around the ice.

Was the cost/benefit of the new space worth it? I don't know, but I am definitely going to be spending more time in that space, and hopefully I will buy a thing or two from the shops there (Hempire, anyone?).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Q: who should be the lamp lighter? A: taxpayers

The City of Guelph is run like a conglomeration of companies all working to provide city services in exchange for tax dollars. If you haven't heard, the city of Guelph is a little short on cash lately and is looking for new ways to fund some capitol projects.

Council has the bright idea to sell off the city's street lights to Guelph Hydro, the electrical provider. Currently, the street lights are owned by the citizens of Guelph, and their upkeep is paid for by tax dollars.  Under the proposed system, the City of Guelph would sell the lights which would free up approximately $10 million dollars in the operating budget. Guelph Hydro would control the street lights, and the cost of maintenance would be included in the electrical bills. So what seems to be the problem?

The City of Guelph owns Guelph Hydro. No new money is actually being created, and tax payers are still forced to bear burden of new capitol projects. This is a complex legal shell game used by city hall to move funds around.

Selling off the street lights would give city hall a big bag of money to put towards things like a new downtown library, the Wilson Street Parkade, a skatepark (maybe), and a south end recreation centre (not likely). In the future, I imagine municipalities selling off most of their infrastructure and utilities to private enterprises (I don't necessarily agree with this, Im just continuing with the trend). This street light issue is the continuation of municipalities slowly selling themselves off to private firms; its a drop in the ocean given the larger context. Toronto sold off its street lights in 2005 for $60 million dollars... Toronto will now pay over $420 million over the next 30 years to rent them back. It doesn't seem wise to echo the same actions taken by Toronto, in Guelph. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

im going to decapitate you. jk, Halloween!

     I have a love/hate relationship with Halloween. I love trick or treating, carving pumpkins, wearing costumes, the festivities, and thinking of spirits. I hate the commercialization of cheap plastic crap adorning people's lawns and the glorification of brutality and violence. The type of society that casually enjoys decapitation, gore, and skeletons, is a society that is far too comfortable. It is a society that has never truly experienced actual hardship or brutality. We need to stop normalizing violence in society, especially in Halloween advertising. You know where they don't have such violent Halloween media? Answer: In places where there is actual violence. In Mexico and the Philippines, where people actually get beheaded, Halloween or All Saints Day, is a celebration of lost spirits. People gather for potlucks in cemeteries and remember the spirits of lost family and friends.

     I hate the proliferation of cheap costume stores popping up around Halloween. I understand everyone has to make a buck, but I certainly won't be spending my dollar there. How many junky costumes, and plastic accessories end up in the trash? All of it. Don't even get me started on those full face plastic makes; I can think of no better way to encapsulate your head in chemicals. Be original; make your costume at home and put some make up on. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

thoughts from last night's council meeting: noise by-laws

Last night at council, there were two delegations from concerned citizens regarding excessive noise at night. The concern stemmed mainly from motorcycle engines at night, but eventually extended to all vehicles as the discourse on the subject developed.
During the second citizen's delegation, a well spoken senior lady brought up previous recommendations to the city, from a subcommittee, regarding excessive noise. The woman's area of concern was along the Speed river's walking trails west of Gordon St. Obviously she lived there, and has claimed to walk the trail over 15 000 times since she moved to Guelph. Some of the suggestions for dealing with the noise pollution included:

1) Increased police enforcement of noise violations.
2) Increase police training with "decibel rating" devices.
3) Create the motivation for neighbors to snitch on their nosy nieghbours. When the vehicle in question is parked in a driveway it becomes easier to locate.
4) Create a sound certification system for vehicles that wish to operate within city limits. This requires the cooperation of mechanics to certify automobiles.
5) Reroute truck traffic from Wellington to Stone Road

The current by-law is very vague because it states vehicle exhaust systems must operate in an "effective and working" manner. This leaves much to debated. The factory default settings on a 2011 Yamaha R6, or Harley Davidson Fat Boy are already ultra loud. Although they meet the DOT decibel regulations, they're not something that should be prowling a residential neighbourhood at 2am. To compound the problem, aftermarket exhausts crank the volume up to 11.

The issue of motor vehicle noise is similar to that of the ruckus caused by students. Towns-folk get pissed-off and demand the city do something about it. My main contention with the solutions offered by the citizen delegate and city's sub committee on the issue, is No. 5. When the citizen delegate described the fifth option, rerouting trucks from Wellington to Stone, she said: "the noise of the trucks would drown out the noise of the students". I have a problem with this, and not because it marginalizes students. A statement like this marginalizes the families and communities living amongst students. Rerouting trucks down Stone Road would punish a group of citizens that have already felt the brunt of noise and disturbance that comes from students.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

who is responsible for all the shit in downtown Guelph?

Below are some thoughts on Guelph's downtown scene from a letter to the tribune, way back when...

Barkeeps are big part of downtown problems
Re: Dino Busato’s letter to the editor “Nail the core offenders not city bar businesses” (Tribune, Dec. 7).
The onus of destruction and debauchery downtown every weekend cannot be placed solely on poor enforcement issues and lack of bathroom accommodation.
It is very irresponsible to confront only the “customer” side of Guelph’s nightlife.
While I do agree people should be fined for doing bad things, enforcement is more complicated.
It is easier to find people urinating, fighting, throwing up and littering at 2 a.m. in downtown Guelph than it is to find Waldo in his wonderfully illustrated environments.
Are these people being fined? No. For whatever reason (lack of police resources, lack of police diligence, lack of people’s respect, etc), these people are not being fined. It is a fantasy to hold every person accountable for their actions when several thousand people shuffle into downtown every weekend.
That being said, I have spoken to downtown business owners who say the police are scared during the downtown scene. I’ve seen police just stand there while people fight.
I rarely see police walking around; mostly they just sit in their cruisers. That being said, they have an immensely difficult job and I respect what they do, although I think a more “pro-active” stance needs to be adopted by the police.
It is a bone-headed minority that is reeking chaos downtown. It is also a minority of bars responsible for producing the majority of boneheads. I’m a university student. I go to bars, and overserving is rampant.
Several clubs downtown have signs around the bar reading “Two-drink maximum after midnight.” I have never once seen the rule enforced by the servers, who fulfill orders for several drinks to overly drunk individuals – myself included.
People throw up when they drink too much, and if they bought a drink downtown then an irresponsible server contributed to the problem. It does not take an undercover sleuth to determine who is making people drunk downtown.
People pre-drink before they go downtown.
They are already drunk when they get there, and yet several servers will still provide drinks.
This places more trouble in the hands of security, who just throw drunks out into the public.
I feel the city made a terrible call when setting up the pissoirs and made a another terrible call with their subsequent removal. I feel the burden of rampant public urinating falls on the bar owners and the City of Guelph. It is cruel to expect people to drink beers and then lock them out of every washroom downtown when the bars close.
Bar owners and the city must provide a place to relieve oneself if they are profiting from pumping us full of liquid. Ensure adequate washroom facilities after the bars close, and then start fining people for urinating.
Ben Baena Guelph

Thursday, October 20, 2011

city councillor’s ‘joke’ gives a bad impression

At the Sept. 26 city council meeting, there was discussion around the city providing home energy audits. They are going to implement a pilot program that provides these audits, and the debate surrounds the cost of providing the audits. It was also noted the pilot program would take place in a neighbourhood heavily populated with students.
Coun. Bob Bell recommended a price of $20, at which point other councillors weighed in on the issue. When setting the price of the program to homeowners, it is important to consider whether the property is leased to tenants.
When it was Coun. Karl Wettstein’s turn to speak, he jokingly remarked that he “would charge students double,” after which he gave a chuckle and assured looks to other councillors around the horseshoe. I am not offended by his comments. I am both a student and a full-time permanent citizen — probably for several more years after I graduate. My concern is that these comments, jokingly or otherwise, represent underlying tensions between Wettstein and his ward, which has a high population of students.
His “joke” was not very funny, nor in good taste. To suggest that anyone would discriminate in price, and unfairly charge a specific group of people more than normal, is to cast aspersions on that group.
If he brings this attitude forward in council, what does he say in private?

Ben Baena, Guelph

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Guest Post: Paul Wartman on Foodstock

Sarah Harmer at Foodstock, photo by Diogenes Baena

Hello All! Today's post is a thoughtful contribution from Paul Lion Wartman, a 4th year undergraduate student at the University of Guelph. Mr. Wartman is engaged with local organic food production, sustainable living, promoting social and environmental justice. Below are his thoughts from Foodstock:

      Last Sunday, October 16th, a counted 30,000 people came together in the forested, agricultural land of Honeywood, ON to celebrate Foodstock. Community members of Guelph jumped on their bikes, hopped in their cars and piled, literally, into buses with family and friends to join the festivities. Everyone was gathering there to support the provincial efforts to stop a local issue - the Mega Quarry… as well as to enjoy the local bounty prepared by 100+ chefs from across Canada, which was complemented by the musical talent of Jim Cuddy, Sarah Harmer and many others!

     Once there, people trekked across farm field paths to the entrance of the forest.  Greeted by friendly volunteers that were collecting registration donations, "pay what you can" with a recommended donation of $10, we chirped with excitement. Upon entering the forest, people stopped and stared. It was as if entering a dream! Amongst the stands of fall coloured trees were pockets of tents that had chefs crafting together their meals to share. Many were cooking the locally produced food over fire pits, which added multiple streams of aromas that pulled you in different directions. With home-brought plates, cups and cutlery in hand we gathered our senses and galloped towards the smells. First table had little tarts filled with goat cheese, produced just 3 km away, mixed with berries it was quite the treat! Next was squash gnocchi! I don't know if you can imagine how it tasted swirled with maple syrup and sage! Ah! Plates moved, pulling their human parts from location to location being settled by the warm pockets of sunshine and acoustic tunes during their short journeys.

    Grazing throughout the art stands and mud-jumping children, eating mouths took time to discuss the issues at hand. Where would all this amazing food come from if this class A farming and ranching land turned into a quarry? We enjoyed our vegetarian poutine, those potatoes grew here. What about the water? Wouldn't digging 200ft below the water table in the headwaters of 5 major river systems affect the flow? These are all important issues to be pondered.

    Overall, it was a fantastic experience, rich with culture, that left you feeling satisfied. We left with new energy and hope that our efforts here today and our continued efforts will help prevent the proposed Mega Quarry and to create new policy to help make the necessary process of aggregate production less destructive to the environment.

For more information on the Mega Quarry and the efforts surrounding it, check out these links:

-Paul Wartman
Oct 19, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

occupy wall street.

I like the Occupy (insert developed world city here) movement. Something in the capitalist system is not working, and it needs to be addressed. I'm not claiming to have any answers about what exactly the problem is, but I know something is wrong. I can feel it my bones.

At the heart of the Occupy Wall St. Movement is the complaint that current financial markets are not regulated properly. Archaic banking practices, high-risk investments, and a bottom line driven solely by profits have combined to create a system vulnerable to exploitation by greedy goblins. Wall street occupiers claim old economic rules no longer apply; for example: rational expectations, which are: "economic situations in which the outcome depends partly on what people expect to happen".

What I don't like about Occupy Wall street, is how other advocacy groups have attached their agendas to the occupation movement. In order to bring about meaningful and effective change to the West's banking systems the message cannot be diluted with things like: climate change, social injustice, and environmental concerns. All of these things are inextricably attached to the impacts of capitalism, they are important and deserve attention; but let's just focus on bad banking practices (hasn't that been the major inconvenience of the past 5 years?). Policy makers will take the movement more seriously and it will be easier for them to affect change, if the priorities are direct and specific.

 I also don't like references in the media relating Occupy Wall St to the Arab revolutions. They are entirely different. Arabs have faced decades of stagnation and oppression, while Wall Street occupiers have only been affected for the past decade (the major shift coming after 9/11).

I have two videos that compare the political media perspective from the left and right. Notice how each media group, from opposite ends of the political spectrum, uses people at rallies to portray their message. The first video is of left-leaning media interviewing stupid people at a Tea-Party rally and the second video is of right-leaning media interviewing stupid people at the Occupy Wall Street movement. Media from across the spectrum are guilty of interviewing a small select sample of individuals and using that to represent the entire movement.

It just occurred to me this video may not play on all computers, try the link:
Ari Horowitz on GBTV
 p.s. I am well aware that 95% of what comes out of Glenn Beck's mouth is garbage.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

dolime sounds like the name of a tropical beverage

Hey everyone, this here is a shout out to all the students in undergrad public policy programs. You should go to your city's council meetings. Practically no one shows up, so you're guaranteed to get a good seat. Also, it is not as boring as it sounds. The discussion that goes on is directly relevant to the courses you are studying, and it beats the hell out of reading a textbook.
Last night at Guelph's city council meeting, there was a presentation about the Guelph Dolime Quarry. I feel this is significant to bring up, aside from the striking environmental concern, because of the recent discussion of the Melancthon Quarry in Honeywood, Ontario

Guelph's Dolime Quarry has sat for the past several years departed of any mining activity. Recently, it became economically viable to use deeper methods of mining to extract aggregate from beneath a protective layer of the hard rock lining the bottom of the quarry. The hard rock, otherwise known as the aquitard, lies above the underground aquifer and prevents its contamination from surface waters.
The governance of aggregate extraction permits in Ontario is entirely out of date, and the dilemma faced by Guelph reflects that. Dolime has put forward a proposal that seeks to expand the scope of the current Dolime quarry and mine for aggregate at continually deeper levels. Dolime seeks to excavate beneath the aquitard, and refill any created hollow space with back fill. Last night at council, I think the date referenced for the current legislation regarding aggravate removal was sometime in the 1980's, and Wellington Water Watchers lists The Water Resources Act of 1990 as lacking safeguards as well. There is no current protection in legislation that prevents a pit operator from piercing through the aquitard.
Currently, the city is going back and forth between the Ministry of Natural Resources, Dolime, and environmental consultants to determine the risk and consequences of deepening the Dolime quarry into the aquifer.
When a huge hole is dug, not in terms of credit card debt, the groundwater can come into contact with contaminated surface water. As a result our tap water needs extra purification after it is pumped out of the ground and before it goes down our throats. City staff indicated 8 wells, or 25% of Guelph's water supply could be affected by pit expansion below the aquitard. Costs associated with retrofitting the wells to handle a new load of contaminants are estimated around 2-3 million per well. This does not take into account the time Guelph would spend with a greatly diminished water supply nor the public unrest surrounding possible contaminated drinking water. But maybe the aggregate beneath the aquitard is made of solid gold and every Guelph citizen will receive a 100oz gold bar. That would be wicked.

Friday, September 23, 2011

thoughts on the crime bill

a new comic for you.

I know y’all be thinking of the upcoming provincial election and I don’t mean to distract you. But this is important; do you remember all that talk during the Federal election about a massive omnibus crime bill proposed by the Conservatives? Well this past Tuesday, the Conservatives dropped the third piece of legislation in their “omnibus”.
Before all this was in the news, I thought “Omnibus” was an East German Volkswagen knock-off.

So what’s changed in the “Crime Landscape” since last May? Lots. I have taken some excerpts from a CBC article that outlined the changes, I have added my thoughts below in red.

Mandatory minimums: a range of drug, sex, violent and other serious offences will now have longer stipulated jail sentences, leading to questions about dramatic increases in the costs of incarceration for both federal and provincial prisons.
            Justice needs to be conducted on a case-by-case basis. Mandatory minimums (key word = mandatory) are not what we need. I agree mandatory minimums may be helpful for some violent and sex crimes, but mandatory minimums for growing 6 pot plants are going to put people in jail that shouldn’t be there. This part of the Bill doesn’t even consider popular opinion regarding certain drug crimes. I think the federal government should hold a referendum on this issue just to prove me correct.

Tougher penalties for drug offences, including a potential doubling of sentences for the production of drugs such as marijuana, to target the role of organized crime in the production and possession of illicit drugs and to crack down on marijuana grow-ops.
            I sort of touched on this above. This approach is misguided. The limit set for a mandatory minimum is 6 plants. If you want to target organized crime, set the limit at 2000. Give mandatory minimums to people who keep guns beside their stash. Don’t send the local mom and pop grow shop, college kids, and medicinal users (that failed to jump through the paperwork to get their MMAR license) to jail.

Tougher penalties for sexual offences against children, and the creation of two new offences related to the planning or enabling of sex assaults against children.
            I don’t know the particulars of this, but I agree with the statement as it stands. There is no excuse for hurting children.

Long-gun registry Ended
            I agree with the Conservatives ending the long-gun registry. I agree with the “idea” of registering all guns, but not if it costs a billion dollars. Besides, who commits crimes with long-guns nowadays? This isn’t 1912. Today’s criminals pack semi-automatic handguns.

More power for police to conduct internet surveillance (known as "lawful access") — a controversial step that would compel Web service providers to hand over information even without a search warrant has been feared by internet experts. But the government said Wednesday it has no plans for such measures. "Outrageous claims like that one, that private communications will be intercepted without a warrant, is a complete fabrication," said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews Wednesday, responding to a question from the NDP.
            In other words, don’t post stupid shit on Facebook. Don’t plan crimes over email. Don't wire money to terrorists. 

Mandatory jail time for repeat offences in trafficking contraband tobacco and a new RCMP anti-contraband force.
            This just sends an already marginalized group to jail for something trivial. Don’t quote me on this, but I’m pretty sure the people couriering cigarettes across the St. Lawrence are poor native groups being exploited by people higher up in the gang chain. 1 out of 3 cigarettes enjoyed by Ontario are “illegal”. Is the government targeting the right people? Big tobacco gets paid either way.

Stiffer sentences for violent and repeat young offenders for serious crimes, to protect the public from "out of control" young offenders
            I get the whole “stiffer sentences for repeat violent offenders”. I don’t get the “out of control youth” part. Where does one draw the line between bad kids and bad parents? The law should punish people who fornicate, have children, and can’t take care of them. How can we punish youth crimes, when a youth’s entire environment may have been filled with violence? Instead of punishing young offenders more harshly, we should save ourselves the legal fees. Let’s plant a garden in every school, and give every child a free, hot, and nutritious meal for lunch.

I took the italicized part from an article by CBC. It can be found here. I only covered a brief portion of the legislation that was passed. And I didn’t look very deep to find the particulars. I think the government should get “tough on crime”, but I think they should do it by getting “soft on people”. Take a more proactive approach and stop crime before it happens. The Netherlands is literally closing jails because they don’t have enough prisoners. They are importing prisoners from Belgium in order to pay for the Jail’s hydro bills. Aside from the recent massacre, Norway  typically experiences 50 murders a year. Norway has a population of 5 million, which makes about 1 murder for every 100,000 people. Canada and the US do not even come close to the this number, so how can we get “tough” on crime, when we are perpetuating a system that creates criminals by definition?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

hudak will not raise taxes. or expectations.

Taxes. I have a love/hate relationship with taxes. I hate paying them, but I love the services they provide. Fundamental to every political campaign is taxes; whether to raise them or not. The more rightist parties want to keep taxes low, while the leftist parties want to increase taxes and pay for more social services. It is a time-old debate.
In an interesting turn of events, Tim Hudak announced yesterday that his party will not raise taxes. He sent an explicit letter to the Chief Electoral Officer that declared his position. There are loop holes around this, such as downloading taxing responsibilities to the province *cough*Mike Harris*cough*. But Mr. Hudak also stated he would not increase the tax responsibilities of the province. woo hoooo!
You may be asking yourself, "Why would a party leader explicitly state their intentions during a campaign? Isn't it better to use vague political mumbo-jumbo and leave the outcome open-ended; so no matter what you do, you can say you met your "goals"? That may be so, but under the Tax Payer Protection Act parties are forced to announce their tax intentions before an election.
I admire Mr. Hudak's goals. Taxes suck. But let's be realistic. Taxes go up because government plays an increasingly bigger role in everyone's lives, whether we like it or not. More of us are crowding into increasingly smaller spaces, and the government sorts out the repercussions. Maybe if everyone just stopped making babies we could expect government to play a smaller role and taxes to go down.
I don't mean to say the Conservatives are off the mark, in terms of their ideology, but let's be serious. No tax increases for the next 4 years? seriously? You better not close my hospital... or let bums control my water supply. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

compare party platforms. easily.

You want a job? I want a job! Hopefully we don't want the same job, or else one of us is going to be unemployed :(
No, that was a poor joke; but job creation is a major policy area being explored in each party's platform. All the parties have the overarching goal of keeping everyone employed, at a decent wage, but the mechanisms they use differ between parties. Should we hire more underutilized immigrants? Should we cut corporate taxes so they can expand their business and hire more employees? or should we hire more bureaucrats to help promote small business on a national and global scale?
The Globe and Mail has compiled party's Provincial platforms for specific policy areas. It is nice to see all the headlining grabbing proposals all in one place. It is limited in scope and there is no way to tell what was left out without actually reading their platforms in their entirety. But who cares? It is so easy to use! Below I have copied the policy proposals regarding Job Creation.

Ontario Liberal Party

-Create a tax credit for businesses that hire skilled newcomers
-Double the premier’s trade missions to eight, to help businesses access new markets
-Make the Northern Ontario Heritage fund and Eastern Ontario Development funds permanent, as well as create a new Southwestern Ontario Economic Development Fund
-Move ahead with the Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act to develop innovations in clean water technology, with the goal of of creating clean water jobs
-Reduce small business tax rates to 4 per cent

Ontario PC

-Create a tax credit for employers who sponsor language training for newcomers to Ontario
-Introduce a small business “bill of rights,” guaranteeing small businesses a greater voice in new legislations and regulations
-Appoint a minister responsible for eliminating red tape for business owners
-Create a Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, to assist farmers and small business owners
-Reduce the basic corporate income tax rate from 11.5 per cent to 10 per cent by 2013
-Create 200,000 new apprenticeships over four years for skilled tradespeople

Ontario New Democrats

-Create a 10 per cent tax credit for companies that invest in buildings, machinery and equipment in the province, and for companies who provide training for staff to upgrade their skills
-Create a new 'Job Creation Tax Credit' that would reimburse employers 20 per cent of wages for a new hire's first year, up to $5,000 per employee.
-Reduce the small business tax rate to 4 per cent
-Raise corporate tax rate back to 14 per cent, where it was in June of last year before the implementation of the HST
-Make it law for government contracts to be rewarded to Ontario companies
-Reject the London Stock Exchange’s takeover of the Toronto Stock Exchange
-Amend Ontario’s mining act to make it law that resources mined in Ontario must also be processed in Ontario 

Check out the rest of the policy areas and each parties stance, by clicking HERE

Monday, September 19, 2011

candidate meet'n' greet and other stuff

            On Thursday night, the CSA and Civic Engagement held a meet and greet with Guelph’s MPP candidates, in the Bullring. Candidates were on hand to speak about their platform, issues pertaining to students, and answer questions. After the meet and greet student representatives from each party addressed generic questions regarding major policy areas; education, environment, economy, energy, etc.
It is very exciting to see other students hushed and huddled around political candidates, discussing the direction of Ontario’s future.

            Aside from questions regarding each party’s platform; it was interesting to note the body language and demeanor of each candidate and the students who listened to them. The most obvious and interesting contrast is that of the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives. Liberal Liz Sandals sat in an armchair encircled by students on couches, while PC Greg Schirk stood closely surrounded by students. When I stood listening to Mr. Schirk, the audience seemed tenser than with other candidates. I feel for him, he is up against a tough crowd. Guelph is a swing riding with a history of electing NDP,  Progressive Conservative and Liberal MPPs; but the university student body is more left leaning. Mr. Schirk handled himself very well when a student became slightly confrontational regarding Mr. Schirk’s use of the term “red-tape reduction”. In a casual style, he gave the student his business card and asked to set up a future conversation. Very classy.
            A consistent point of contention between the Liberals and Conservatives is the Green Energy Act. While some praise the act for “greening” the province’s energy sources, Conservatives claim the act has been responsible for raising the cost of energy in Ontario. I feel conflicted, as per usual, about the act. My understanding is that the Green Energy Act was sort of getting-ahead-of-itself. The essence of the Act was that the Liberal government would offer a subsidy to the construction of “green” energy projects and purchase energy from them at a grossly inflated rate.
            Ok, that sounds awesome, but it was apparently too successful. Now the government is locked into long term contracts, paying a premium for energy.
            Ok, that’s all fine and dandy; I understand that the investment helps the environment in the long term. The problem is this, as Liz Sandals explained: so many projects were built in rural areas and the existing grid infrastructure could not handle the power delivered from the subsidized projects.  As a result, we have a bunch of useless green energy projects sitting around, taking up space, and not adding power to the grid.
            Now let’s get back to reality; the Conservatives claim this project has been responsible for raising the energy costs. This may be partly true, but to what degree? Energy prices are constantly increasing; natural gas becomes harder to find, coal is more expensive to mine, and oil… don’t get me started on oil. The Green Energy Act may have under preformed its expectations, but not because it exorbitantly raised your electrical bill. When I asked Mr. Schirk about the act he said it was unfortunate that the government was locked into the contracts, and the project would not be sustainable in the future.
            The NDP’s James Gordon, Green’s Steve Dyck, and Communist Drew Garvie were also on hand, but due to lack of time I couldn’t listen to them in-depth. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

edumacation highlights.

This picture is totally unrelated to my post below. I just thought it captured so much raw emotion. It is a poverty advocate confronting McGuinty in 2007. Her immense finger waving abilities are superbly captured.

The Ontario Provincial election campaigns are well underway, with every leader touting how their platform is better than the others. Certain issues tend to galvanize the electorate more than others, bring about the ire of the party leaders, and garnish the most media attention. We always have the standard rhetoric of health care, education, security, employment, immigration, etc. But election campaigns and platforms may tend to emphasize certain issues more than others.
Here are some highlights

Isn't this just fabulous? maybe. This is a huge and costly promise. Don't get me wrong, I think it is wonderful that education will become more accessible to a wider range of people, and the lessened debt burdens of students will allow them to better enter the workforce. But at the moment, there is a criticism that there are no jobs for people coming out of university. I mean... there are jobs, but people are underemployed. An educated workforce doesn't matter if there no jobs. McGuinty has framed himself as the "education" candidate. I feel the "economy" is a bigger issue at contention in this election, so maybe framing himself this early in the campaign will be a problem.

The Liberals have been developing full day kindergarten programs for the past 2 years. During those 2 years, Tim Hudak complained about the program. But now... the Progressive Conservative platform wants to implement Full-Day-K, across the province. This shows that Tim Hudak is not a devout ideologue; he is a pragmatist that listens to polls (however delayed his response may be).

Policies like this are great because they make headlines, and maybe someone will derive the message, "Ohh isn't that great! Hudak prioritizes Canadians over foreigners". Well you must weigh the benefits and costs of giving grants to foreign students. Foreign students come to Canada with immense talents and contribute to knowledge creation. We give grants to foreign students because they are the best in the world, and fulfil roles that have not been filled by Canadian students. This does not mean that Canadian students were not given the chance.
A foreign student is a major bonus for Canada. We did not have to pay the cost of raising them, providing them with education, health care, etc, for the first couple decades of their life. Then they come here and research, study, contribute to knowledge creation, and will probably generate profits for someone down the road (hopefully they stay in Canada). Plussss, foreign students bring money from another country and spend it in Canada. Yipppeeeee!
Anyways, Hudak wants to use that money to expand OSAP.

Monday, September 12, 2011

party platform shoes.

Elections platforms are actually very similar to platform shoes. They both support people. The bigger a shoe's platform is, the harder time someone will have walking in them. But a bigger shoe platform makes it more stylish.
The bigger and more comprehensive a party's platform is, the harder time they will have living up to their promises and sticking to the schedule. But a bigger and more comprehensive election platform is more appealing to the masses (ie. more stylish)

Here's some links to the Party's Platforms. Read (skim), them over and see what you like or don't like. Make your own decision; we have enough distortion of platforms from the politicians themselves.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

bike like a boss

Hop on a bike and join the fight against bicycle discrimination.

Guelph is a great city for commuting by bicycle. To work, to school, for groceries, for coffee; you can go by bicycle... Well for the most part. It depends where you live. Here's my take on cycling in Guelph; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good:
Guelph has a positive outlook towards cyclists. This is due to many policies City Hall has put in place that either directly, or inadvertently, benefit the cyclist. Let's start with the ample green space. Guelph is covered with green corridors, parks, and trails, that allow a cyclist to stay away from major roads. Most of my bike commuting is done between the downtown core and Clair Road, and it is all readily accessible through parks and roads with bike lanes. On the rare chance I have an errand somewhere near Woodlawn, I am able to take the Royal Recreation Trail north to access the eastern section of Woodlawn (Wal-Mart, Riverside Park, Beer Store etc.), and that is without traveling a road where the speed limit is over 50km per hour!
If you look for the green patches connecting the subdivisions south of Wellington, you can avoid any road that might give you the heebeejeebies and still arrive at your destination on time.
Guelph has excellent resources for cyclists of all types and budgets. There are over 10 bike retailers in the city selling everything from $100 refurbished commuter bikes to $5000 carbon fibre rocket ships. The Bike Centre here at the university is open to everyone... for free. You can purchase discounted parts and use every bike tool imaginable... for free! It is run by the CSA and everyone is encouraged to bring their bike and learn about the basics of repair and maintenance.
Lastly, Guelph somehow manages to breed a collective consciousness that allows motorists and cyclists to co-exist... in most parts of the city. In my experience, motorist are very respectful of cyclists in Guelph. If you don't bike at night, downtown, on in the northwest part of town, you should be good.

The Bad:
The worst part about cycling in Guelph in the northwest. Silvercreek, Dawson, Imperial, Willow, Edinburgh. All these roads have no bike lanes, high speeds, pot holes and at least 4 lanes of traffic. Silvercreek is the worst; the vast parking lots cause several cars to enter and exit traffic, which is not comfortable for cycling. Woodlawn sucks as well; at all cost avoid Woodlawn if you are not comfortable with high speeds and trucks.
Avoid downtown at night. In fact avoid cycling at night anywhere that students live or are known to drink. I have been called names and pestered by many drunks when biking around guelph at night. Everything from, "Hey fagot on the bike!" to having a group of drunks create a human chain across the road, and grab my arm in an attempt to rip me off my bike as I passed. THIS HAS HAPPENED TWICE! All entirely unprovoked, I swear. I only have problems at night when drunk students walk home from parties looking for trouble. Other than that, biking at night is delightful. Downtown becomes more romantic at night, especially during the hot summer nights when patios are full of chatty locals. If you choose to bike at night, make sure your bike has a red light on the back and a white light on the front. I cannot stress this enough. It is a sinking feeling to be biking at night and hear a cars tires screech behind you. It happened to me once when I was riding without bike lights, exiting the university onto Stone rd. Also, be prepared for trouble. Make sure you are constantly looking ahead for people who might be ill intentioned. Be aware of people who might throw things, and cars that have high revving engines... I suggest carrying pepper spray, a whistle, and a cell phone for your protection; it can be that dangerous.

The Ugly:
I forgot I mentioned this section in the beginning. I think I listed it all under "bad".

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Guelph's MPP candidates

Hey all! So, election time is around the corner once again. The upcoming provincial election should be interesting to watch, considering the Federal Conservatives swept the nation to take a majority. Also, consider the Conservative influence that has already permeated the ranks of municipal government. Toronto's Mayor, Rob Ford, screams about fiscal conservancy and halting gravy trains until he is red in the face.

Will Guelph be able to resist the temptation of a Conservative MPP?

Here is the current selection of Guelph's candidates:

Liberal: Liz Sandals

Liz Sandals is Guelph-Wellington's current MPP. She has served Guelph since 2003, and is currently the parliamentary assistant to the Health Minister Deb Mathews. This is interesting to note because Guelph's city hall has been butting major heads with the province, in relation to a proposed health clinic.
Sandals also leads the governments Safe Schools Action Team. They recommend legislation regarding gender-based violence, homophobia, sexual harassment and inappropriate sexual behaviour in schools.
She is also really good at computers. Seriously, she used to teach computers here at Guelph.

NDP: James Gordon
James Gordon is a local songwriter/activist/play write/enemy of Nestle Canada. Currently, he is producing a play entitled, "Nastee Business". It is a social commentary on the role between activists and corporations. But don't take my word for it. Here is the website:

Conservatives: To be Declared July 18th
Currently there are three candidates vying for the Conservative Party nomination in Guelph. Let's go through the list:
Rob Demille: Rob is 29 years old and sells insurance for State Farm. He is currently a member of the Property Standards Committee of Guelph. Yup, that definitely sounds like something a Conservative would want to volunteer their time towards.
Greg Shirk: Greg is a local business owner and certified metal mechanic. He used to own a glass company, Royal City Glass, and now works for PM Windows and Doors. He is involved in several glass related groups, such as the Siding and Window Dealer Association of Canada (or SAWDAC for short).
Bob Senechal: Bob is currently a senior accounts manager at a cleaning supply distribution company. He has been heavily involved in the Conservative Party, having served as the vice-president of the Conservative Riding Association in Guelph.

Green Party: Steve Dyck, president of Guelph Solar Mechanical and trained mediator, beat out former city counsellor Mike Salisbury for the Green nomination.

Steve Dyck. I think he resembles former Green MP candidate Mike Nagy, from the 2008 Federal election.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Harper got a new cabinet from Ikea

Where does Stephen Harper get his cabinets? And I'm not talking about the legislative kind composed of MPs. I'm talking about furniture. I think he prefers the pragmatic modular nature of Ikea cabinets? A cabinet that can easily be broken down into it's individual pieces and rebuilt at a moments notice. The Swedish pragmatism devoted to Stephen Harper's cabinet means all the pieces must fit together cohesively; but at the same time each piece becomes incapable and expendable on its own.
Ok, maybe I was talking about government cabinets all along. Tomorrow morning Stephen Harper will announce his cabinet Ministers, uncovering the mystery. No ministers have been confirmed as of yet, but intense speculation has surrounded the decision process. The Cabinet is composed of Ministers, who each handle a specific portfolio (environment, defence, healthcare, etc). It is definitely going to be interesting, seeing which Conservative MP will go where.

Here are some points to consider:

Jason Kenney: This MP is credited with reaching out to "ethnic" communities, and delivering the vote of people in "ethnic costumes". As the Minister of Immigration, Citizen, and Cultural Affairs, Jason Kenney played a key role in delivering Harper's majority. His efforts are worthy of a promotion; but to where? It has been reported he might be moved to take over the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Department's former Minister, Lawrence Cannon, was voted out of his riding in Pontiac, Quebec. If Jason Kenney did his job and won the ethnic vote, then maybe he is too valuable in that position to be moved. Maybe, just maybe, new Canadians fell in love with his boyish grin and dimpled cheeks.

Peter MacKay: He already has one of the most important cabinet positions, so I don't really see where he can go. He has had a strong positive presence along side Harper, and he has upheld Harper's mandates.

Mike Flaherty: Same as Mackay. Flaherty is currently serving as finance Minister, and the only place this guy can go is up. But he is already at the top. The next logical step for Flaherty would be as Leader of the Conservative Party.

John Baird: I don't know what this guy is going to be doing. I read he is rumoured to become to Minister of Justice, but that is, hopefully, unlikely because he doesn't have a law degree. He might replace Stockwell Day as President of the Treasury Board.

It important to look at who the Prime Minister appoints to which cabinet positions. If the PM appoints a clearly incapable MP to a portfolio, it is a good indication that the PM doesn't really consider that issue a high priority. How often did you hear about Bev Oda, Minister of International Cooperation, before it became evident she was incapable of doing her job? Take John Baird as Minster of the Environment from 07-08. epic fail.

Here is a funny video of John Baird commenting on Flash Mobs:

Monday, May 16, 2011

WHA?! I thought Greg Mortenson was one of the good guys?

ugh! This is a huge disappointment. Greg Mortenson, founder of the charitable organization The Central Asia Institute, might be a fraud! This is the guy who rose to international fame after writing the books "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones into Schools"; both chronicle his success bringing education and healthcare to mountainous region in central Asia. His organization has claimed to build hundreds of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and in the process: empower women and fight terrorism! A truly awesome combination.
But unfortunately, a report on 60minutes indicated the whole scheme is a sham! Apparently he just spends his charity's received donations on himself in order to live a lavish lifestyle. Apparently his charity doesn't do anything, and the contents of his books was fabricated! YIKES! Unfortunately, I don't have whatever channel 60minutes is on. So I can't really say what all the accusations are specifically...

Here is the article from Yahoo News: Is Three Cups of Tea Writer Greg Mortenson a Fraud?

But... I have read one of his books. I feel conflicted. I read the first one "Three Cups of Tea" when it came out. Honestly, It was wicked. It was an engrossing adventure story, and the positive actions of Mr. Mortenson made me feel a little better about the world. It really sucks that I won't be able to appreciate that book as much as I did before. I haven't read "Stones Into Schools" yet; and I probably never will. If he can disprove all the evidence against him, maybe I will pick it up. maybe.

Book Review: "The Jew is not my enemy" by Tarek Fatah

Following on the heels of Arab protests across the Middle East, violent clashes have rocked Israel's borders this past weekend. Palestinians, protesting Israel's occupation of the land, rushed Israeli border checkpoints. Sunday, May 15th, marks the 63rd anniversary of the creation of Israel; a day which Palestinians refer to as "Nakba Day" or "Day of Catastrophe". Both Palestinians and Jews staked claim over the holy land, and this has created violent tension ever since. Both Palestinians and Israelites have committed crimes against each other. And in doing so each side has stockpiled contempt for the other.
I am not writing this to lend my support to any side, but rather to introduce a (fairly) recent and topical book. In "The Jew is Not My Enemy", Canadian Pakistani Journalist Tarek Fatah tries to explain the brewing hatred of Jews in Muslim regions like Pakistan, Iran, and Palestine.
Fatah travels back to his native Pakistan after 17 years of living in Canada. He was shocked to be confronted with a casual hatred against Jews that had developed in his home country. As a journalist, Fatah wanted to explore where the hatred of Jews stemmed from.
How does this relate to the current clashes between Israeli and Palestine? Well, it does and it doesn't. Fatah cites the Israel-Palestine conflict as a red herring when considering the Arab's mistrust of Jews. While not being responsible for creating the hatred, both Jewish and Arab communities cite it as support and justification for ill intentions.
Fatah identifies decades of stagnation in the Arab lands, and its many lost battles, as a source of hatred towards Jews. Extremist Muslim politicians and clerics have placed blame on the Jews, and somehow managed to unite entire Muslim communities against the Jew. Over time, the hatred of Jews has become ingrained in certain Muslim cultures and is propagated by authorities as a way of maintaining power.
Fanatical clerics have reworked the interpretations of the Koran, idealizing stories like that of a battle at Medina. One such story in the Koran, has the profit Mohammad and his armies take over the city of Medina, and killing its 900 Jewish inhabitants. Although the Jewish religion of the story's victims did not intend hatred of Jews when the story was originally written, it has become suggested by extremists as a religious justification for smiting Jews. Here is a quote from Tarek Fatah from the TVO podcast The Agenda with Steve Paikin, Nov 1st 2010:

"In an era of Muslimdom, when we have nothing to accomplish, when we cannot win any wars, where fourteen armies get beaten by a tiny force, where Pakistan and India have wars, and Pakistan gets defeated, where Egypt gets defeated, where Jordan gets defeated, Syria gets a bloodied nose. What do we rely on? Past victories."

Of course the manifested hatred of Jews is unfounded and ignorant. Tarek Fatah decries Anti-Semitism in every chapter by dispelling the Muslim myths fuelling their scorn of Jews. Fatah cites many historical instances of great cooperation between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East and South East Asia. He states the current mistrust of Jews is a relatively new phenomena, that has no historical justification. The Middle East is such a common topic nowadays, especially Jew-Muslim relations (take this guy for example), and this book will put a lot of conversations in context. There is tons more in the book, and it's a really easy read. If only actual extremists would read this book, their convictions would be changed. But alas, that will probably not happen.